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December 07th, 2021

mental health managementELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


The holiday season will kick off with Thanksgiving soon, and while the holidays can be a positive time for many, there are also people who struggle during this time of the year. 

“The answer as to why the holidays can feel overwhelming is different for everyone. But generally, the holidays are just more intense and for a lot of people, there are so many particular memories associated with that time,” Dr. Leslie Bissell with Southwest Guidance Center said. “Depending on what culture you're part of and your childhood experiences, there can be a lot of expectations around the holidays and a lot of hopes and dreams about having everything just perfect. Part of the reason people love the holidays so much is because there's that chance to hope and dream, and we look forward to seeing family and friends. With that in mind, however, there's also the chance for disappointment if something doesn't go quite the way it's planned in someone's mind. Holidays also mark some form of anniversary for a lot of people, particularly if there's been a loss of some sort – that can make it a little more difficult for someone to be fully present in the moment, especially in a society where people are constantly comparing themselves to others. If we get too caught up in the comparison game, that can lead to a lot of dissatisfaction, and that can come to a head around the holidays.”

With all of that in mind, Bissell said there are some things people can do if they are not feeling as usual. 

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“The first thing I would recommend, if they're feeling physically not right, whether that be an increased lack of sleep or a negative shift in appetite, is to visit their primary care physician and get a good physical done in order to make sure all of that is as it should be,” Bissell said. “With a lot of physical ailments, symptoms can include a change in mental health – for example, if someone's having thyroid difficulties, that can make them feel very depressed. So taking care of any physical ailments could be a great first step in helping people start feeling like themselves again. After taking care of that, and if you're still not feeling quite okay, schedule an appointment with someone to talk, whether it's with a mental health professional or your clergyperson a good friend you have a trusted connection with who you can talk with. As we're moving into the holiday season, be intentional and realistic about what you can do, not only with your time but also with your finances. The pressure to buy things for loved ones can increase this time of year, and if your income is already pretty tight, spending outside your needs can cause additional stress. Be aware of all of that, and be aware of how you're coping with the stress you're facing and whether or not it's a healthy way to do so – for example, many people are stress eaters around the holidays and have more of those sweets than they healthily should, and a lot of people also drink more alcohol and caffeinated drinks than they normally would. Be wise and keep an eye on things like that, and keep the 'Everything In Moderation' adage in mind. Alcohol itself is a depressant by nature, so even though some people say it helps relax them or get them in a party mood, alcohol is not going to be very helpful for you if you're feeling down.”

Something else that could be helpful for people, Bissell said, is to have a plan going into this holiday season. 

“Like any other scheduled thing, the more prepared you can be, the better. If you can think through what you would like your holiday to look like, that is very helpful,” Bissell said. “It can be very easy to get swept in all the hype of the holiday season, and it's easy to have your calendar take over a lot of your life, so one way to eliminate some of that stress is keep things simple. Think about the things most important to you, like family traditions or things like that, and let some of the other stuff be background noise. It's important to make memories with your family, but it's also important to give yourself time to rest and recharge.”

Bissell also talked about the number of clients seen at SWGC around the holiday season. 

“We tend to see, overall, around the holidays, a slight dip in services. Some of that is because people's schedules change because of when school lets out and some people are doing some traveling this time of year. We also know it's common for people to have some baggage around the holidays, especially if someone has recently experienced a loss of a loved one and maybe this is the first holiday season without them, and that can be really difficult,” Bissell said. “It's also common around this time of year for people to look back on their lives and take stock of where they are, especially as the end of the year approaches – for some people, they look back and they think they might not be where they want to be in life, whether at work or in their personal lives. For some people, that can bring on a real sense of melancholy, which can escalate into depression.” 

Because of that, Bissell said, staff tends to see a bit of a boom in services shortly after the beginning of the new year. 

"The holidays have a way of bringing people together, which can be joyful for a lot of people and not so much for others. Maybe there are some toxic family members you don't really like being around, or maybe something comes up that prevents you from going and seeing the people you want to for the holidays. And in general, with the weather turning colder and it getting darker outside earlier, it can be easier for people to withdraw from their usual activities and isolate themselves. If you're in a downward mood, isolating yourself makes things more difficult.”

For those who feel they need some extra help, Bissell offered encouragement to set up an appointment to talk to someone. 

“As mental health professionals, we know it's normal for people to have an ebb and flow to our moods, that's just how we operate,” Bissell said. “A big red flag people can look out for is if that bad feeling lasts for two weeks or more, that's a sign you might need to reach out to someone for help. Also, if it seems like those feelings are coming rather out of nowhere, that's another sign you might need to look for help. And especially with everything that's happened related to COVID-19, a lot of people have isolated themselves and have yet to reconnect in person with other people. Humans are very much pack animals and need to be around people in order to feel alright, so if you haven't yet taken that chance and gone back to some social activity you used to attend, I'd encourage people to start that again in a way that's safe for them because being around other people can do a lot to improve a person's mental health and outlook. For anyone who feels like they need some extra help, we are here for just that and more than willing to listen. And for those who need it, the Suicide Prevention Hotline number is (800) 273-8255, that is available 24/7/365 for free for people.”


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